NYC's German Immigrants March off to the Civil War with 8th NY Volunteer Infantry on May 26,1861

New York's First German Rifles Join the Fight with Blenker's Rifles

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A Soldier of the First German Rifles, part of New York's 8th Volunteer Infantry in the American Civil War

NEW YORK (05/23/2011)(readMedia)-- As thousands of Union Soldiers from New York State assembled and marched off to Washington in the initial days of the Civil War, one regiment had a unique German cultural and ethnic identity among its ranks: New York's First German Rifles.

The regiment, the first of the Union Army to be formed of mostly German-Americans, organized and recruited mainly in New York City in April 1861 under the command of Col. Louis Blenker.

The regiment, mustered into service in April 1861 as New York's 8th Volunteer Infantry, would become known as the First German Rifles, and later, as Blenker's Rifles. One month later, the unit left New York City on May 26, 1861 with a unit strength of more than 1,000 men.

Blenker himself arrived in the Rockland County, New York in 1849 after his unsuccessful revolutionary efforts in Worms, Germany forced his emigration.

Born in Worms, Germany in 1812, Col. Blenker served in the Bavarian Legion with the rank of lieutenant up until 1937, with military experience in Greece, and brought much of his experience in drill and ceremony to the newly formed German Rifles.

The regiment left New York and served in Washington, D. C., from May, 1861 until the First Battle of Bull Run in July, where the regiment was part of the 1st Brigade, 5th Division in the Army of Northeastern Virginia in July 1861.

Col. Blenker would write to the Union commander, Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott in the fall of 1861 that the German Regiment "will do our best to show to our American brethren in the Union, that the spirit of Steuben and De Kalb is not yet dead, and that the German Division will do its duty to pay, by good conduct and blood, what we owe to our adopted fatherland."

More than 500,000 New Yorkers enlisted in the Army and Navy during the four years of the Civil War and 53,114 New Yorkers died. Throughout the period of the Civil War Sesquicentennial observance, the New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs will produce short articles about New York's Civil War experience researched by the New York State Military Museum in Saratoga Springs.

For more information, go the NewYork State Military Museum Civil War Timeline Website at